The Pagan Umbrella
I told +Niki Whiting I would expand on an earlier statement I made that Paganism = a religious + social/political outlook and that the political outlook mattered more.

Below isn't really a venn diagram, even though it appears to be one. At best, it's a bastardized version of one. It may help explain what I mean about who does, and doesn't, belong in the Pagan community.

Paganism is considered an umbrella term, but what that umbrella covers is widely debated. In most discussions of trying to define Paganism, there is a list of what it is not. Or it's several vague paragraphs. Or it's a definition of one religion, commonly a form of Wicca, that is defined. Most agree that religions unified under Paganism are not done so according to specific dogma or deities worshiped. OK. So what does unify us? What does the umbrella cover?

Looking at the community and how it interacts, I believe there are two unifying elements that are under the Pagan umbrella - the Wheel of the Year and a Progressive Sociopolitical outlook. One is religious and the other is cultural. The cultural component is the more important of the two. You don't have to have both, one will do, but if you don't fall in line with either, you are outside of the community. The sweet spot, those who define our culture, are where those two overlap. Think of all the Pagan community leaders, authors, and most of the Pagans you know. Do they have a Left leaning Sociopolitical outlook? Do they celebrate the Wheel of the Year? Both? Probably.

People have been trying to come up with a religious component that binds modern Pagans together for decades. Is it a nature or Earth based religion? Is it governed by the Rede? Those are probably the two most commonly proposed unifying traits of modern Paganism, yet neither hits the mark as they are dogma based descriptors in a non-dogmatic grouping of religions. But what about making the divide between those who celebrate the Wheel of the Year (8 evenly spaced holidays) and those who don't? Does that sound closer? I think so. Is it a hard and fast rule that everyone will agree to? No. Because of the cultural (Progressive politics) factor, which is the more important of the two.

Let me make four statements about Pagans, in general, and see if you agree with them.

Pagans ...
Celebrate the Wheel of the Year and subscribe to left leaning politics.
Don't celebrate the Wheel of the Year and subscribe to left leaning politics, but they probably aren't very involved in the Pagan community.
Can even be atheists IF they subscribe to left leaning (especially environmental) politics.
If you Celebrate the Wheel of the Year, but don't subscribe to Left leaning politics, you are on the fringe of the community, but still included.

When a subset of atheists (and I have nothing against them at all) are under a religious umbrella, you get the idea that religion is not the most important unifying feature of a group. The people who are active and thrive within the community are those celebrate the Wheel and are culturally left.

However, you are not part of the Pagan community if you ...
Don't celebrate the Wheel of the Year and don't subscribe to left leaning politics.

Before you jump in and say how open, welcoming, and accepting the Pagan community is, let me agree with you. It is open. And welcoming. And accepting. But if you posit a person who has no (or very few) religious practices in common with most members of a religious group AND has an opposite cultural (political) views than most other members of the group, yet still belongs in said group, pause and think about that for a moment. You are saying it doesn't matter if we have anything at all in common. That there is nothing that binds us together other than not being Christian. That's not enough to bind a community together.

Heathens are building very strong, vibrant communities. They are thriving and most are doing so far away from the Pagan community. Other polytheists are doing the same. When asked, some refuse the Pagan label, others don't care, some embrace it. Here's the key, though. Even out of those who say they embrace the term, they have almost nothing to do with the Pagan community. They are busy in their specific religious community. I look at people's actions, more than their words, as an indicator of thier true thoughts and values.

Pagans, Heathens, and other polytheists are close allies, though. We do need to band together on specific civil and religious rights projects. We can share knowledge of our spirituality and all be the richer for it. We can laugh together, attend festivals, join each other for worship. Help each other build shared infrastructure. Our differences shouldn't tear us apart, especially if we acknowledge them and respect them.
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This would be so much easier if Wiccans would just identify as Wiccan, even if it means being of the same label as the proverbial "thoooooose people." Geez, there's jerks in every community - sooner or later Pagans will realize this applies to them too.

On a more serious note, I'm still trying to find a single religion other than Wicca that celebrates an 8-spoked wheel of the year. I know some observe a 6-spoked wheel or even a 7-spoked wheel (all Sabbats present in Wicca with the exception of Mabon, a holy day which is believed to have been invented by Gerald Gardner) - but any belief system that identifies with an 8-spoked wheel I've always been able to easily fit into "Eclectic Wicca" as it's sufficiently close to Wicca to be Wiccan (debates about lineage aside).
Cara, I think your analysis is pretty accurate, but I don't like it. Or rather, I don't like what it says about the various religious movements in the vicinity of your umbrella. On one hand, we haven't developed enough religious depth yet - we need Wiccans to be Wiccans and Heathens to be Heathens and so on. You only get depth by diving deeply into one tradition instead of sampling shallowly from many. On the other hand, there are SO many issues that need our cooperation (true freedom for minority religions being the most obvious), I want there to be an umbrella we can all fit under.

Dave, Druidry celebrates an 8-spoked wheel of the year - or at least, ADF and OBOD do. There is a story in OBOD circles that Gardner proposed 4 solar festivals and Ross Nichols proposed the 4 Celtic fire festivals. After conversations (they were both members of the same Naturist club) they both decided to include all 8. Whether that story is literally true, mythically true or a total fabrication will probably never be known.

Star, I think your last comment is the elephant in the room. There are far too many people for whom "Paganism" means "I can believe anything I want to believe" and who vigorously resist any attempts at definitions or other limits. These people don't contribute much to the overall movement (they're too focused on following their whims) but they can be major PITAs in a small group. I suspect these folks are one of the largest impediments to a productive umbrella.
Thanks John, I was honestly under the impression that Druids did 6 rather than 8 - thanks for the clarification.
John Beckett, yeah, we've been there, done that with the "But I can believe anything I want to believe" people in a CUUPS group in the past. Besides being a PITA, they were also, as you say, an impediment not only to a productive umbrella but a functioning group.

I'm more a fan of orthopraxy than orthodoxy, but I suspect that even the wildest of us out here in the Pagan Free Thinker clan admit that you have to have at least a little bit of agreement of ideas to function well with other group members. And there's the rub. We want to have a pagan umbrella in part so that we may celebrate together. Maybe not do actual rituals together, but have enough agreement to say this is what we support and what binds us together.
"Pagans, Heathens, and other polytheists are close allies, though. We do need to band together on specific civil and religious rights projects."

I think this is quite true, and can even include traditions that typically fall outside of the "Pagan" umbrella, for instance Hinduism. The trick for a lot of people is to convince them that mutual interest is not always the same thing as shared definition, and that that's okay. I think that the blow-up that occurred a few months back over Drew stating that he considered himself polytheist and not Pagan is ample proof that, for many under the Pagan umbrella, there is a lot of uncertainty (and, I think anxiety) over the fact that, if some people no longer call themselves "Pagan", that means that they're abandoning our mutual interests.
I think considering Paganism to be a group of religious groups that have mutual interests is probably the best definition I have heard in a long time.
I agree +Nicholas Ritter that anxiety over being abandoned plays a part in some in the community demanding people call themselves Pagan.

What we all need to understand is when we have mutual interests, we need to cast a wider net for allies to fight the good fight. Hindus are not Pagans, but they have often stood next to Pagans when made aware of religious discrimination cases. When Wiccans were looking to get the pentacle approved for military headstones and the VA was fighting them every step of the way - Heathens and other polytheists stood next to them. (Note to Wiccans, how about you return the favor since heathens would like the Hammer as a VA approved symbol?)
Lol Cara, I was going to rant about that in my previous comment, but I figured 1) it was off-topic and 2) I've ranted about it before.

The Wiccan organizations support the Hammer Campaign it seem. Though I don't recall any Wiccan organization other than Circle doing more than lip service on this... which is about as much as many Pagan (including Wiccan orgs) did for the Pentacle quest so I can't bicker much there - but the attitude among individual Wiccans of "we got what we want, screw y'all" even if they don't consciously realize that's what their attitude is... it's deeply infuriating. However, at the same time, the Hammer Campaign is still waiting for one of their own to die because that's allegedly needed to get these things pushed through (*fury*). So even if I wanted to do something, it seems to be a sit and wait situation for now :/. At least Circle has proven effective at getting this done - more than I can say for Charles P. Arnold.
I really enjoyed your post. I think it highlights what I think is wrong in Paganism today, which is intolerance of differing viewpoints. As a Heathen, I find that I feel somewhat on the edge of the main pagan groups in our area, but that makes me want to try even harder to work towards building inclusiveness in our pagan gatherings. To grow stronger, we all need to work together. I also have found that I have learned a lot from my conservative friends, and without them, our groups would just be sad, little Cliques. Ultimately, we need to get around our differences, and I think that we can really grow as a community. BTW - you all should read Crystal Blanton's work - she really has opened my eyes to what we need to do to grow as a pagan community!
I don't see the point in keeping religion out of a Separation between church and state refers to funding and certain types of businesses. That isnt the case here.

I agree with this post Cara and it is hard. While we dont want dogma, it is important to have some common understanding that we can unite under. It makes our community more challenging. I personally do not subscribe to the thought that Pagans are just non-christian.

The more open our umbrella is, the harder it is to keep fo us and understanding among one another.

And thanks for the nice comments about the book!
I dont think the goal is to organize religious power at all. I think it speaks to the cultural aspect of a minority group and the adoption of common beliefs that become the expectation.

It is not reasonable to think that policics can be removed from any social environment, politics are a natural part of relationships and society.
I think it's also important to realize there's a difference between the politics of bettering our society in a mutually amicable manner vs. cheerleading/fanboyism for specific teams that partake in that process. The latter seems to be where much conflict originates.
I increasingly feel that "Paganism", the word itself and the implications it holds, is a problem within our larger community. Personally, I think we as a community should think of our faiths as "Pagan religions," to clearly spell out that "Pagan" is a faith grouping in the same way that Dharmic or Abrahamic are. Our touchstone, similarly, should be neither orthodoxic nor orthopraxic, but instead rely on orthogenesis (orthography?) -- our shared origins in the ethnic faiths of Europe and the Near East.

I realize this post is about the demographics of the "Pagan" community, but I can't help but feel like the way we commonly define the umbrella leaves out those that aren't comfortable with ambiguities -- or worse, allows the umbrella to be accidentally hijacked by its largest group.
The problem with that perspective is that it leaves out a lot of culyure that are not from europe. Even the natives that lived on this land prior to the invasion.
That's kind of the idea. If our faith group doesn't have clear boundaries, then the word "Pagan" is meaningless. Besides, every faith that might be "left out" has it's own larger name for it's family of faiths, along the same lines of orthogenesis/orthography. Native American faiths, African faiths, African Diasporic faiths, Dharmic faiths, Chinese faiths, etc. all deserve recognition of their origins and independent theologies -- as well as our support/alliance asminority faiths with similar theologies.
"Our faith", I am a little confused. That is assuming that "Pagan" is not "their faith". That comes across as very.... privileged. For that matter, European faiths is a category as well, so the reasoning you use does not make sense to me.

In an attempt to redefine Paganism, if that were ever to be the case, isolating European cultures from all the others (that rightfully deserve to be considered Pagan as well) seems..... very counter productive and not a solution.
I wasn't aware that "European faiths" was a category of faiths in the same vein as "Native American faiths" -- I've never come across any reference to them as such in any Religious Studies work I've read. That's the angle I'm approaching this discussion from, and I fully acknowledge that it may be a position of privilege.

I feel that, one way or another, we need clear lines for what is and is not a Pagan faith, based on positive assertions rather than negatives. Since every other faith group is based on orthography or orthogenesis, it makes sense to do the same for Pagan religions. Aside from that, most practitioners of other minority faiths (at least in the US) have demonstrated that they don't want to be included as "Pagan" for various reasons, so why put strain on interfaith efforts with them by doing so?

I don't think this should be used to deny anyone a place at the table - far from it. If a Native American or Hindu group wants a spot at a local Pagan Pride Day, power to them. Instead, it should be used to pick out where the "Pagan" place at the interfaith table is, while preserving the integrity of all the faith groups we tend to stomp all over in the name of openness. I find it much more honest to admit that we are different, admit our differences as well as our similarities, and work together from there.
I say that I strongly disagree with many of those points. How dare anyone make decisions on who can now be considered Pagan and offer them the chance to come to a local Pagan Pride day as if they are a guest. As I think it is meaningless to get into a debate about it, I will just say that it is a narrowed view of looking at what would benefit one aspect of a collective by cutting the others out. That to me in not a community and definitely not the one I signed up for.

I think it also leaves those who practice various paths or are eclectic to not fit into to a group and this would be a true tragedy.
+Cara Schulz I appreciate this post. I'm not sure I wholly agree with you (when do I ever?) but it is really good food for thought. I feel like I've not been in the wider Pagan world/community long enough to really have a good grasp of this issue. I'd like to see a diversity of groups standing together for mutual support. But in reading this I just realized that I use the word 'Pagan' as a descriptor partially because it is a catch-all and partially because it is an indicator that I am not Christian. And yeah - that's not really good enough.

I'm still very jet-lagged, so that's all I got this morning, but I look forward to this discussion continuing. The folk here have had interesting things to say. Also, Cara, I hope you don't leave 'the Pagan community' (whatever that is) even if you drop the term as a descriptor - your views are valuable and important!
Nope. I'm not leaving. And that is an important point that Nick made, "mutual interest is not always the same thing as shared definition, and that that's okay." We can still stand together, enjoy festivals and all that, even if we aren't all Pagan.
Great post. I think a "fun" (which really means "painful") would be a follow up article to interview parents across the spectrum, and hear about experiences about the SHOULDS of how they should parent if they are "real pagans". (For example: I know several that were bullied about "no science for kids!" and had to push back.)
+Pythia Theocritos - if you can, try a local UU especially if they don't suck. I know a lot of Pagans have a lot of bad experiences with the UUA, but mine was generally positive - I just happen to not agree with their methods of doing things on a spiritual (rather than practical effectiveness) level. If the overall UU church doesn't suck, many offer a CUUPS group.

Looking beyond that, let's also be mindful that Pagans aren't completely full of FAIL. Peter Dybing was particular effective at getting us all to donate to relief aid early in the year, Iris and David are doing an excellent job with overseeing the Open Hearth Foundation (IIRC, they officially open in just a few hours). Sure, it'd be great to cite more examples - but that's a heck of a lot more than I could have said this time last year.

IMHO if one is looking for community, they would best find it in their particular tradition or a single tradition very similar to it, but not in an overall/generic Pagan community unless you are already friends with those individuals for reason other than using the same label.
First i have to say that I am a 2 book priestess but have no minions. Damn it, what am i doing wrong? Lol.

And secondly, i wanted to add that organizations like CoG do that for me locally. Dont know your area but i would look into that option.
I am aware the CoG is an organization that is for witches. Considering that many consider themselves witches and are not Wiccan, this is more open that just a Wiccan organization. It may still apply to some who are interested. 
While I see what you are saying, I don't agree that CoG is not a useful organization. While the requirements for membership is one issue, CoG works on behalf if all Pagans and have been very instrumental in intra and interfaith arenas. Even most recently at the American Academy of Religions. It was wonderful to have so many different Pagan paths at the CoG reception to represent Paganism.
I dunno if "always" is accurate. CoG all but fell off the face of the Earth from before I pursued a Pagan path (2001) up till Peter Dybing showed up - and I am a bit biased in saying that since I think very highly of Peter and what he did to kick CoG into gear during his leadership there. I respect what they do and how they try to do it - and I wholly believe we'd have more petty Drama Llamas running about if CoG didn't exist. However, the CoG of today is not nearly as instrumental to overall Paganism as perhaps the CoG of the 80s and earlier.

BTW, anyone know any good places to find details of what happened at the AAR? All I seem to be getting out of the Pagan media as a whole (podcasts, blogosphere and news outlets) are summaries or "well, that happened and it was a good thing."

Back on track - at the same time, why is it assumed the Wiccans and Witches (and even then, usually 4 or 5 strongly motivated people) must do the major things in the Pagan community? It's time for Paganism to move into a post-Wiccan era - with the growth of Wicca seemingly slowing down (or at least becoming vastly more manageable) and religions like Asatru gaining new followers swiftly, there's going to come a point soon where Wicca is neither the largest nor fastest growing Pagan subgrouping. There needs to be more stuff like IPCOD (International Pagan Coming Out Day) where the main figures include people that aren't Wiccan nor identify as Witches nor have practices that closely resemble these two. This is just a rant as I have no productive suggestions at the moment on effecting this.
Dave, I think you are quite mistaken. I love Peter and think he has done incredible things for CoG... much needed things. But to say that CoG had fell off before him is disregarding all of the hard working CoG members that are doing the work that does not make "national" media. I know for a fact that Northern California CoG has been one of the councils that has not stopped working. Let's look at just a few of the names that work on behalf of CoG just in my local area.... Patrick McCullum, Don Frew, Anna Korn, Macha Nightmare, Glenn Turner (owner of Pantheacon), Greg Harder, Rachael Watcher and many others.

I think that the Pagan community has to start looking at all the hard work that happens off of the magazine covers and behind the scenes to make it happen. I think Peter did an incredible job and I also think that others are doing incredible work as well.... inside of CoG and outside of CoG.

As for the AAR, I don't know what type of information you are looking for. I think that Macha did some interfaith blogs about the AAR on the CoG interfaith blog.
+Crystal Blanton - Thanks, that was the info I was looking for. Also - unfortunately, it seems only 1 of those names seem to be on Google+ and may possibly remotely be in CoG :/. It'd be awesome if they'd just bypass the media and talk to us directly. Heck peer-to-peer interaction is how a lot of Pagan podcasters get their guests (not by reading some magazine - online or not). Of course, if you know any more cool RSS feeds for CoG - that's good enough for me :).
While I agree that there needs to be more variety and a lot more supportive ventures that are inclusive... I am just not behind what appears to be anti Wiccan dialog. It is counter productive to me.... Especially when so many who do identify that way have been supporting the larger issues of the Pagan community for so long. I think more people need to step up..... And I would rather focus energy there.

Where are these people and how can we encourage them to be a part of what others are doing?

As for the ways to do charity... I agree... more avenues to explore this would be wonderful. I think it is great when the community comes together to do things that are supportive of others... I have seen that a lot within my local Pagan community here in California. I cannot tell you how much support I got from local Pagans... especially Wiccans and CoG members after the tragic death of my mother. And then we turned around and did it again for another family that suffered a similar fate.

NCLC CoG donates funds through Kiva but would love for us to develop in a way that we have more resources to do that among our own community.
+Pythia Theocritos Simple, "THEY" spend more time doing things rather than sizing up one-anothers' metaphorical genitals to see who should be in charge while ensuring no one is going to tell them what to do. /sarcasm?
Just to clarify... all those names I listed are CoG members in the Northern California Local Council.... for sure... as I am a member.

They are not doing the magazines and that is my point... with the exception of maybe Patrick because of his court stuff. They are the ones that are doing the work.... interfaith, intrafaith.... board members of the Presidio representing Pagan needs, etc. These people are the real deal and so it is hard to conceptualize CoG falling off the map when they are working really hard with little recognition...

I mean... maybe CoG members should claim all of the things they do and create (like Glenn from Pantheacon) yet that is not the point and I respect that they are not doing that.

As for links, I will dig them up.....
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